FIRST BRICK STREET IN AMERICA?


First Brick Street

Anyone who follows history of Charleston or West Virginia has heard the story that we were the first city in the nation to have brick streets.  When you think about much older cities like New York, Baltimore or Philadelphia,  you wonder how this is even possible.  But the fact is that the first patent for a brick street did in fact originate here in Charleston.  However,  here's the interesting part:  The man always credited to have designed the first brick pavement was MORDECAI LEVI.   "A piece of it was first laid on Summers Street in 1870, as an experiment. In 1873 the entire block was paved by this method (between Virginia. and Kanawha Streets. on Summers Street , and Mr. Levi was also the contractor".  But did he really design the first brick pavement and lay it down on Summers Street?  Well....  you decide.

First brick street

Here's what we DO know:  We know that Mordecai Levi was involved with the paving,  while John P. Hale (One of Charleston's founders and most successful businessmen) supplied the money for the experiment for a small section to be paved. Mordecai was also involved with many other aspects of technology.  But the name that rarely appears along side of Levi,  is Virgil A.Gates.  J.M. Gates Paints was one of the oldest family businesses in the city.  They owned a plant that manufactured paint over on Sentz Street, when it wasnt common to be able to purchase paint from some giant factory a thousand miles away.  If you bought paint here in the mid 1800s and  early 1900s,  it was probably Gates Paint, since they had been making and selling paint since the Civil War! 

Mr Gates like Levi,  was a man who thought of a "better way"  to solve problems.  As a matter of fact,  the section of street that was paved as an experiment was right in front of Gates store on Summers Street.

HERE ARE THE FACTS


First Brick Pavement

Notice that when this paving corporation was founded,  the first name is Virgil A.Gates.  As John P. Hale, the man with most of the shares in the company is listed last,  why wouldnt Mordecai Levi be listed first as the inventor?  Also notice that this was printed in what we call "The WV Blue Book" today,  and the date is 1885,  which means that it's a year behind in its information.  Keep that date 1885 in your mind.  There will be a test later.  Also notice that it says "UNITED STATES PATENT NO. 285,740,  granted to Virgil A. Gates AND Mordecai Levi.  Why is Gate's name first again?  

NOW  LET'S  LOOK AT  MORDECAI  LEVI'S  PATENT

First brick street

The first thing we notice is the date: of the Patent:  1889.  (The previous Patent is in 1883)  The second thing we notice is that this Patent has a different number than the one mentioned previously.  The third thing we notice is that there is no mention of Virgil A. Gates.  However, this supposedly is the "improved" Patent.  That being that case,  the first Patent would be.... well.... the FIRST Patent.




AND BELOW IS AN EXCERPT FROM A DAILY MAIL ARTICLE WHERE  D. GATES IS ADDRESSING  AN AUDIENCE OF REAL ESTATE AGENTS, AND TELLING THEM THE HISTORY OF THE GATES COMPANY.

First Brick Street? 

"Historian's and other writers have erroneously credited this to another man".



So there you have it.  No doubt that Charleston WV at least Patented the first brick street.  Did other much older cities have streets that were paved in brick but never patented?  We may never know,  but now we have questions about who really DID design the first brick pavement for streets.  One thing to keep in mind is that our county had the finest clays on the East Coast at the time for making brick of all kinds.  Henry Ford himself chose our brick to build his plants and ovens.  For streets, not just any brick would do, and we had the ones that were waterproof and could take the heavy pounding of heavy wagon wheels.



First Brick Street
First test pavement was right in front of Gates Store





First Brick Street

Epilog:  Gates Paints was in business for almost 100 years on Virginia & Summers, closing in 1958




FINALLY:  WHAT WAS THE FIRST COMMERCIALLY PAVED STREET IN CHARLESTON?


 I might add that Smith Street was the very first commercially paved street in the city.  Most people arent aware of that.  Reason was that all the heavy needs of the city arrived by train here and was hauled by wagon, which kept the muddy street almost impassible at times.  The city hired Pfaff & Smith to pave the street with brick,  because concrete wasnt used yet at that time.  Pfaff & Smith came here from Ohio mostly due to the work needed in this area.

















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